Step off the grid for a mindfulness break on Britain’s peaceful inland waterways

Research by the Canal & River Trust, the charity that cares for the nation’s 2,000 miles of canals and rivers, shows spending time by the waterways can lower levels of anxiety and make you happier*.

Waterways are described as ‘great places to relax and de-stress’ and canal boat holidays are often said to be ‘the fastest way to slow down’.

Pottering along at just four-miles-an-hour opens up space and time for mindfulness.  Getting close to nature is widely recognised to benefit our mental and physical health and wellbeing and with over 1,000 wildlife conservation sites on the Canal & River Trust’s network, Britain’s canals and rivers have become an important place for biodiversity.

Here are some insights into the relaxing effect of a narrowboat holiday, described by journalists who have enjoyed the experience:

The perfect antidote

Dan Sanderson described his recent family holiday on the Shropshire Union Canal as ‘the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern city life’ and said ‘chugging along at an average speed of just 2mph…time and distance become an obscure concept and you are left with little option than to sit back and enjoy the view’.

The Mailonline, ‘Ready, steady…slow!’, 8 July 2023

A Wiltshire retreat

Paul Miles, while on the Kennet & Avon Canal, explained: “Life in the slow lane is the norm on the canals. It heightens my sense of observation.’

The Telegraph, ‘I’ve been in happy self-isolation for the last 10 years’, 20 March 2020

Northamptonshire slow zone

Fiona Whitty enjoyed a narrowboat holiday on the Grand Union Canal and said: “As an antidote to fast living, travel is all about going slow nowadays – and you don’t get much slower than a canal boat with a speed of 4mph.”

Sunday Mirror, ‘Slow-go zone’, 27 March 2022

A Shropshire escape

In his review of a Drifters’ canal boat holiday on the Shropshire Union Canal, Dixe Wills says: “The sedateness of our progress up to Shropshire, coupled with an almost complete absence of intrusions from the modern world, created a bubble that we were reluctant to burst.”

The Guardian, ‘The ripple effect: a leisurely boating break in Shropshire’, 29 July 2020

Putting the brakes on in Leicestershire

Gareth Butterfield reviewed a holiday on the Ashby Canal saying: “there’s something incredibly cathartic about slowing yourself down to canal pace…a week at walking pace is just the tonic for people who need to put the brakes on from time to time.”

Manchester Evening News, ‘I raise eyebrows taking a big lizard on a narrowboat trip along the Ashby canal’, 17 April 2022

Meandering into North Wales

Mary Novakovich, who took a narrowboat holiday on the Llangollen Canal, setting out from Chirk, said “Meandering along at a languid 3mph – slower than my walking pace – we had plenty of time to absorb our surroundings as we spotted herons and steered under pretty arched bridges.”

The Independent, ‘Knot Too Shabby’, 16 May 2021

A break from modern life in Yorkshire

Jaymi McCann enjoyed a holiday on the Leeds & Liverpool and said: “The canal remains unchanged over its two centuries but its purpose has been transformed: coal barges have given way to leisure boaters. Its engineers could have little envisaged its current use but the languid pace is what makes it such a break from modern life.”

Sunday Express, ‘A Slow Boat To Yorkshire’ 22 May 2016

Bucolic scenes in Warwickshire

Lyn Hughes describes her journey along the Grand Union Canal from Napton, observing “bucolic scenes of gently rolling farmland, dotted with grazing cows and sheep. The bank was thick with overhanging willows, bulrushes, rosebay willowherb and purple loosestrife. Dragonflies buzzed past, and clouds of butterflies danced over the wildflowers.”

Wanderlust, ‘Tales from the Riverbank’, November 2020

A balming power

Richard Morrison says: “I do believe that today the canals have a mysterious, balming power that is without equal in Britain – not just because they trundle holidaymakers through glorious landscapes at a maximum of 4mph, but also because they stealthily, almost secretly, carry the peace of rural England into the heart of frenetic cities.”

The Times, ‘Canals – a calming, beautiful antidote to modern life’, 5 February 2007

*’Assessing the wellbeing impacts of waterways usage in England and Wales’, 2018